The evolution of seasonal migration and the slow-fast continuum of life history in birds
Seasonal migration is a widespread adaptation in environments with predictable periods of resource abundance and scarcity. Migration is frequently associated with high mortality, suggesting that migratory species live on the fast end of the slow-fast continuum of life history. However, few interspecific comparative studies have tested this assumption and prior assessments have been complicated by environmental variation among breeding locations. We evaluate how migration distance influences the
... tradeoff between reproduction and survival in 45 species of mostly passerine birds that breed sympatrically in North American boreal forests but migrate to a diversity of environments and latitudes for the northern winter. We find, after accounting for mass and phylogeny, that longer distance migrations to increasingly amenable winter environments are correlated with reduced annual reproductive output, but also result in increased adult survival compared to shorter-distance migrations. Non-migratory boreal species have life history parameters more similar to long-distance migrants than to shorter-distance migrants. These results suggest that long-distance migration and other highly specialized strategies for survival in seasonal environments impose selection pressures that both confer and demand high adult survival rates. That is, owing to the reproductive cost of long-distance migration, this strategy can only persist if balanced by high adult survival. Our results reveal migratory distance as a fundamental life history parameter that predicts, and is inextricable from, the balance of survival and reproduction. Our study further provides evolutionary context for understanding the annual cycle demography of migratory species and the strategies long-distance migrants use to maximize survival on their journeys.